VThe political scientist Thomas Biebricher recently diagnosed conservatism as being politically exhausted. It is true that the Union, since Helmut Kohl was elected Chancellor in 1982 and announced a “spiritual-moral” turnaround, was not in government in only seven out of thirty-nine years. But precisely because of this the programmatic reserve, which could be described by the term “conservative”, has been completely consumed.
This is not surprising in the circumstances of modern politics. She has to make far too many decisions to be able to present them as the realization of a program. They are decisions based on the state of the world or the polls, in view of upcoming elections and in view of legal possibilities. Moreover, there are decisions that are often hardly linked to one another.
And there are decisions that raise many questions about what should be preserved: the landscape or agriculture, grammar school or secondary school, Sunday rest or business life? There are interested parties for everything. One could also put it briefly: A program is a beautiful thing, but re-election is more tempting in the end. The term “People’s Party” is sometimes used to refine this perspective, because it is the people who produce the fluctuations in the polls and who, from a programmatic point of view, honor the most contradicting decisions.
Here I am for more state, there for less
Consistency and consistency are therefore widely praised, but in practice they are constantly violated, and “values” are available for this too: willingness to learn, changing environments, practical necessity. Angela Merkel once asked in conversation why she should feel bound by her own involvement in the regulation of banks in the question of national labor law. Should mean: Here I am for more state, there for less, what is the problem?
Accordingly, such a policy of the Union is sometimes described as neoliberal, sometimes statist, sometimes as a shift to the left and sometimes as the preservation of existing inequalities. Or as pragmatism that doesn’t give a damn about all these labels. The concept of conservatism, recently proposed by the Mainz historian Andreas Rödder, in order not only to distinguish it from unconditional for or against, but to define it through this defense against rigors, lies on this line; with the punch line that Rödder is at the forefront of the ranks of critics of Angela Merkel’s pragmatism. So pragmatism does not seem to completely fulfill the conservative position.
The dispute over the question of who should become the Union’s candidate for chancellor shows the resulting dilemma: Two politicians stand without a single word about their programmatic directions. The fact that coal was given a prominent position in one of the federal states of its origin and bees in the other, will not be associated with conservatisms of different kinds. It does not make Laschet a protector of the industrial structure or Söder one of nature. With the latter in particular, who would bet a lot on the fact that depending on the location and general mood, other preferences would not emerge? Armin Laschet, in his own way, showed postural fluctuations during the pandemic, which can hardly be interpreted as the ability to learn, right up to the paradoxical formula “bridge lockdown”. Söder’s comparison of himself with Bayern’s top scorer raises the question of the goals he has scored so far.
The main thing is that we come back to power
So that there is no misunderstanding: This is neither intended as a criticism nor as a prognosis of fluctuating or even opportunistic government action in the future, provided that the Union becomes chancellor at all. It is just an attempt to explain the peculiarly empty debate about top decision-making in the Union. It seems to be less empty of content, because everyone basically agrees on the government’s intentions and therefore the obvious does not have to be discussed at all. Rather, it is not conducted because the text that both candidates and their supporters would have to offer is far too short and far too general to allow discussion. Or, to put it another way: What one would vote with a cross at the Union is currently so unclear that there is inevitably a lot of leeway in the question of who should represent these ambiguities as a candidate for chancellor in the near future. The main thing is that we come back to power, says the pragmatic consciousness of the functionaries, everything else can then be found.
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